As a writer, I’m always astounded to see how many jobs are available out there, and even more so, how many I’m capable of landing. It’s not that I’m some phenomenally talented writer though – more and more, it’s becoming apparent to me that a lot of writers just don’t show up.

You contact them, interview them, assign them a piece, and maybe they submit the first assignment or two; but then they start missing deadlines, aren’t responsive to emails, their work becomes careless and generic, and before you know it, you’ve invested all this time and energy into hiring someone that winds up fizzling out.

To me, it’s crazy to think that I beat out a large percentage of my competition just because I respond to emails, let alone actually submit work on time, but the sad fact is that being a freelance writer requires a person to be self-motivated and personally responsible, and a lot of times, people just can’t hold themselves accountable.

So how do you save yourself the time and money in investing in someone who is going to be dependable, and a valuable asset to your company? Don’t worry, this isn’t a sales pitch for my services. I’ll give you a few pointers that I’ve had employers exercise with me that will help you sift through the duds, and get staff writers that deliver.

Try a Working Interview

One thing a lot of employers have done with me in the past is schedule a working interview. This not only tells us writers that you mean business, but it gives you a chance to see how good we are about reading instructions, delivering on time, and prompt communication. A working interview is a great way to get a sense of how thorough a writer is going to be.

Keep in mind though that there are a lot of scams out there, and that you’ll need to have reasonable expectations from work that is assigned in this format – don’t assign time-intensive pieces, so writers can be assured that if you just disappear with their work and decide not to hire them, they’re not out too many hours of their day.

Give them a workout, but especially if the interview isn’t paid, be sure to make the assignment a quick one.

Set an agreed upon rate, or make it clear that if the interview won’t be paid at all. Having a direct, clearly formatted working interview proposal is crucial in establishing clear expectations.

Create Specific Guidelines for Submissions

I mentioned before that being clear about your expectations is crucial to the success of any working arrangement, but this is especially true of writing contracts. Since copy writing can be such an abstract, expressive service, it’s important to clearly outline your criteria for work submissions.

Some things you can specify in a contract to make sure you get what you want are:

  • Deadlines – Is this for the project due date, or project post date? Be clear.
  • Length – Roughly how many words do you need?
  • File type – Don’t waste time with file types you can’t open – let your writer know exactly what type of file you want their work to be submitted in (.docx, PDF, Google Docs link, etc.)
  • Media – Do you need images? Make sure you let your writer know how many (most of us know to look for royalty-free ones, but it couldn’t hurt to remind new writers).
  • Links – What specific links, if any, do you want included with the post? Will you be providing them, or will the writer be responsible for doing so? If using affiliate links, be sure to provide them (or insert them yourself).
  • Sources – Do you want your writer to cite and link to sources?
  • Bio – If the piece isn’t ghost written, does the writer need to provide a bio and/or headshot?

If you’re clear on your criteria for the writers you hire, then you need only to look at their working interview as a window into how well they’re going to perform for you. If you’re looking for a long term fit, make sure you discuss this with your writer, so you both can have reasonable expectations about their availability to create content for your site.

Look for Proven Writers

Published content is always a nice look at a writer’s skills in play, and indicates that they have had successful writing relationships in the past. If you can find a writer with pieces published on authoritative sites with multiple deadlines at stake, there’s more of a chance that they’re solid and dependable, and take pride in their online reputation.

Take a look through their portfolio, and not only get a glimpse of their writing style and skills, but how frequently they have published work under their own name. Keep in mind though, if they’re ghost writing, their portfolio won’t be indicative of their work performance, and it may not tell you much.

I know when I first started out as a writer, I had a really hard time improving my rates and building into higher paying jobs, simply because so much of my previous work had been ghost-written. If this is the case with the writer you’re looking into, a working interview will be essential to really determining whether or not they’ll be a good fit for your project.

Keep Track of Great Writers

If you have a working interview with a writer, and it goes reasonably well, but you wind up hiring someone else, be sure to keep their information on file somewhere in a sort of backlog for you to dig into, should you need content in a pinch and don’t have time to start the interview process all over again.

I like to do this when I’m searching for graphic designers, especially on sites like Fiverr, where there are so many freelancers to choose from. Keep a spreadsheet of their contact information and links to their work, as well their specialties/niches they’ve covered, so finding another writer is fast and easy in the future. Be sure to keep notes on negative experiences as well, so you don’t forget who you’ve dealt with, and start the process all over again.